Death, taxes, and laundry

Sometimes it really does feel that way: like one of the guarantees in life! August’s raft-up topic is about handling clothes and laundry on board. It’s a good subject for the group, since it’s a big question for pre-cruisers and based on questions we’ve had, I think a lot of people wonder how we manage this on a boat. With a busy family of five (and a pact not to use dry cleaning), we probably did a load of laundry every day when we were living more conventionally on land. It seemed daunting to me, too.

Like everything, you simply adjust to a new reality. Being in the tropics helps a lot: we just don’t wear as much. The cruising lifestyle also lends itself to casual dressing. “Didn’t you wear the same shirt yesterday?” -said no cruiser, ever.

For doing laundry, there are a bunch of options. Here’s how they shake out for us.

Washer/dryer. Some boats have washing machines (and a few even boast dryers). I don’t think we ever will. They can be very low water use, which sounds fine; we have a low-output watermaker, and are pretty good with conservation. They require dedicated space and some plumbing, which I am going to get hedgy about (giving up space which could be used for essentials like pesto or rum? I don’t know…). The showstopper for me is the additional power need. I don’t ever want a generator or to have big power generation needs… we are not that kind of boat.

Laundromats. We’ve had access to laundry facilities relatively infrequently. For the last month here in Australia, we’ve had easy access to affordable washing machines at the city-run moorings. They aren’t sexy, but they are great for quickly getting a large amount of clothes clean. When we untie our lines tomorrow, there won’t be a dirty sheet or dish towel on board.

Laundry services. When reasonable services are available onshore, I am happy to avail myself of the services. The lavanderias in Mexico were a dream! Almost everywhere else so far, it’s been DIY.

And… old school: bucket laundry.The MO on Totem is washing in a 5-gallon bucket, with a dedicated (well it better be) plunger. Exhibit A at right: Niall looking a little less than enthused about his role in the bucket laundry process. Kid, you’re in Bora Bora, don’t complain!

The plunger and bucket method work fine for us. A little soap, a little jiggling around with the plunger or a ride on the aft deck in a seaway. Sea water is fine to wash and to rinse out soapy water, then precious fresh water is used for for a final rinse. Clothes are hung on our (spectra) lifelines to dry.

Thanks to the virtues of a “swap / giveaway” corner in a marina, we now also have one of those egg thingys, manual washing machines you crank by hand. So far, it lives up to the reputation of having a completely inadequate support frame but we’ll rig it up to be functional. Based on about six months of use, it’s markedly more effective at getting clothes clean than the ol’ bucket. Hot water, sealed inside, builds pressure that just gets the grit out better. It does take a chunk of space, but nothing like an installed washer- and we can stow it in a lazarette, out of sight. [update: this turned out to have inadequate construction in other ways, too. we ended up getting rid of it after about a year.] 

This used to have a picture I uploaded Flickr of laundromat in the Brisband marina we stayed in, but Flickr broke the links, dangit!

A few “been there done that” thoughts:

  • Wringer. I wish we had a wringer covet the manual wringers like this that I occasionally see on other boats. Wringing out the saltwater is tough on hands, and you need to get as much of that water as possible out so you can effectively rinse it without wasting fresh water.
  • Clothes pins. People think they need plastic clothes pins because they’ll last. I’m going on year 5 with the same wooden pegs, so think about giving that cr@ptastic plastic a miss. Bonus, wooden pins float, so if you do drop one you’ve got a shot at retrieving it.
  • Detergent. It can be hard to find laundry that meets our standards for 1) sensitive skin and 2) environmental friendliness, so although it’s something you can find almost anywhere- consider if you want to stock up. Ingredients that have been outlawed in the US for a reason are still found in Mexican detergent, and no, you do not need “Joy” to wash in salt water.


5 Responses

  1. I was just telling Tucker that I might write a cruising guide for sailing along laundry service routes. I’m very happy to have paid (not too much) for laundry in Samoa today!

  2. Love the post! I too have 5 on board and that VERY last thing that came in the mail before we left the states was my stainless steel wringer and wash board, I almost get a panic attack when I think about What if I hadn’t bought these two little gems…
    Any ways I never would have guess how dirty laundry can get until I started washing our own…. I haven’t tried washing in salt water yet~

  3. I did laundry with the bucket / plunger for the entire 3 years cruising on “Thistle” except for 3 times at a laundrymat… my friends made fun of me because we always had something hanging out to dry. But it was something we had to do to afford the cruising then. With the cat, I’ll admit, I have a washer/dryer. When we cruised we only used the washer portion of it though, but it was great… Wearing the same clothes a few days in a row with no one saying anything is great too.

  4. It was interesting to read how you put up without a washing machine during your travels though I think it would be more fun to sail with a washing machine and a dryer.

    Hope you have many more interesting journey, with or without the washing machine!

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